[SIGCIS-Members] Origin of 'language'?

Ceruzzi, Paul CeruzziP at si.edu
Wed Nov 5 18:26:24 PST 2014

And keep in mind that the English word is derived from the French word for "tongue." It implies an intimate connection with the human body.

Paul Ceruzzi
From: members-bounces at sigcis.org [members-bounces at sigcis.org] on behalf of JD Fleming [jfleming at sfu.ca]
Sent: Wednesday, November 05, 2014 8:00 PM
To: William W McMillan
Cc: members
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Origin of 'language'?

Fascinating. My own current work is on the "real character" movement of the early Royal Society (the immediate antecedent of Leibniz's idea of a characteristica universalis, and one source of inspiration [I think] for his codification of binary notation). One thing I have learned in the course of my research is that for the members of this movement--John Wilkins, George Dalgarno, Seth Ward, Francis Lodwick, and others--a "language" is more-or-less by definition effable, speakable. A symbolic and combinatorial notation of ideas, what they called a "character"--code, sort-of--is precisely *not* a language. This is why Wilkins's masterwork of 1668 is called An essay towards a real character, and a philosophical language (my emphasis). The "language," being a secondary and effable encoding of the character, is precisely by that token non-identical with the latter. Wilkins and his contemporaries would have been flummoxed by Ada Lovelace's use of "language," below. So I would recalibrate the initial question: when was the last time that "language" was not used, and couldn't be, in the context of the mathematization of communication that eventuates in computer science? And my answer would be: in the seventeenth century.
JD Fleming

From: "William W McMillan" <william.mcmillan at cuaa.edu>
To: "members" <members at sigcis.org>
Sent: Wednesday, 5 November, 2014 11:07:27
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Origin of  'language'?

Do these notes by Ada Lovelace count"

'The bounds of arithmetic were however outstepped the moment the idea of applying the cards had occurred; and the Analytical Engine does not occupy common ground with mere “calculating machines.” It holds a position wholly its own; and the considerations it suggests are most interesting in their nature. In enabling mechanism to combine together general symbols in successions of unlimited variety and extent, a uniting link is established between the operations of matter and the abstract mental processes of the most abstract branch of mathematical science. A new, a vast, and a powerful language is developed for the future use of analysis, in which to wield its truths so that these may become of more speedy and accurate practical application for the purposes of mankind than the means hitherto in our possession have rendered possible. Thus not only the mental and the material, but the theoretical and the practical in the mathematical world, are brought into more intimate and effective connexion with each other. We are not aware of its being on record that anything partaking in the nature of what is so well designated the Analytical Engine has been hitherto proposed, or even thought of, as a practical possibility, any more than the idea of a thinking or of a reasoning machine'

[emphasis added]


Her use of "language" here seems to be specific to the expression of computation and reasoning.

- Bill

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